Monday’s post about Allison brought a pretty interesting question from my spiritual sis, Jennifer Lee. She equated what I went through with Jacob and his wrestling match with God. Jacob, of course, came through that with a busted hip and a new name—Israel.
So, she asked me, “What’s your name?”
Looking back over that period in my life is something I rarely do nowadays. It seems too distant and too painful. But I think it’s worth it. If life is a journey, then it helps every once in a while to look back and see how far you’ve come. And it helps, too, to see that the God you were ignoring all that time, the God you talked to only before you ate your meals and visited only on Christmas and Easter, was still paying attention to you.
Jennifer’s question lodged itself in my mind and wouldn’t budge, demanding my attention. It’s something I never really thought about but certainly should have. If that really was God I met on that high rock in the mountains (and I do think it was), then I came down someone very different from the person who went up.
You cannot meet God and come away unchanged. Because God is all about changing you. Making you something more than you are. And better than you are.
God didn’t change my name, though. I believe He didn’t think it was necessary. He had already given me the name I needed.
Billy is a simple nickname for William. Not a lot of Billys out there anymore, especially my age. It’s a little old fashioned and dated. Which seems to fit me quite well, thank you.
But William is a middle name. Used for years to hide my first name, which is even more old fashioned and dated.
My father’s name. I’ve never gotten around to asking him why he was stuck with that, mostly because it never really mattered. My father was and is the greatest man I’ve ever known. Mention his name to me, and I gather the mental images of someone teaching me not only to fish and hit a baseball, but how to be a man. Homer isn’t his name. Not to me. To me, those pictures are his name.
I, on the other hand, never looked too kindly on my first name.
I always dreaded the first day of school, when the teacher would go over the roll, unsure of what to call anyone.
“Homer Coffey?” the teachers would ask. Always.
My hand would shyly raise, and I would suggest, strongly, that Billy would perhaps be more appropriate. My request would always have competition, though, against the snickers of my classmates. The only thing that quieted them was a whispered threat to beat up anyone who was laughing after school. I was serious, too.
I went through a phase in high school where the name didn’t bother me as much. Homer, after all, was the greatest Greek storyteller who ever lived. It was an honorable name, worthy of distinction. Then Homer Simpson came along and pretty much ended that.
You could imagine the jokes. I’ve been referred to by some as “Homer Billy Simpson” for years.
After Jennifer’s question, though, I decided to do a little digging. I wanted to know what my name meant. Not Billy. Not William. Homer.
From the Greek, I found. The word has a double meaning. “Hostage” is one. The other, “promise.”
Because that is what I am. A hostage to a promise. A promise from God that no matter what I may do in this life, no matter what wrong turns I make or how badly I stumble, He will be there. A promise that says He will walk with me in the light and carry me in the darkness. And that there is nothing, nothing, that could convince Him to think otherwise.
I am a hostage. Oh, yes. Because there are times when I am too weary to believe, too scared to try, and too beaten to get up again. But just when I am about to stick my head in the mud and sink, I remember that night not so very long ago when a holy hand was extended to me.
“I won’t pick you up,” God told me. “I love you too much for that. But I’ll help you up. Every time. I’ll make sure that you’re life isn’t the one you think you want, but the one you know you want. I’ll make you love this world and not hate it. And I’ll make sure that when the end really does come, people will know you were here.”
The choice, as always, was mine. On that night long ago, I took that hand for the first time.
And I’ve yet to let go.